Extra! Murder at the Drive-In Movie!

The pandemic looks like it might be the death of the movie theater, or at least the indoor ones. Already under pressure from streaming, they have been closed for months now, and only recently started to re-open to underwhelming audience numbers. Just recently, the Regal Cinema chain closed all its theaters.https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/10/05/920367787/regal-movie-chain-will-close-all-536-u-s-theaters-on-thursday

But there’s one form of moviegoing that’s risen like a phoenix, and it’s also thanks to the pandemic: the Drive-In.

Of course, it never really went away. For example, in the City of Industry in California, you’re the 1955 Vineland Drive-In has just reopened for business, and the Paramount in Paramount City (opened 1947, closed 1992, reopened 2014) is screening movies every night too.

The Mission Tiki in Montclair has been chugging away non-stop since the 1950s, albeit through some very thin times when they, like many other drive-ins, were used for swap meets, and their Pacific Island décor gives a clue to how popular these venues once were. It also indicates how they were perhaps almost part of history.

Many of us had only seen drive-ins in actual old movies, rather than actually jumping in the car and rocking up to one of them ourselves, and a trip across America often revealed the skeletons of the big movie screens and their empty, grass and trash-strewn parking spaces underneath.https://www.thethings.com/photos-of-abandoned-drive-ins-that-were-left-behind/

But now, thanks in part to the need for social-distancing, it’s back – and all over the world.

A couple of months ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there was the first of a series of drive-ins held at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built. Around 2000 turned up to see the 60-meter screen, and there was a public vote for what would be shown. The Goonies and Toy Story won, and yes, 1997’s Titanic was on the list too, though it only made the top 10!

The first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933, but today even unexpected places like zoos, parks, restaurants and American Legion posts have set up impromptu screens, and are showing mainly comfort watching for these uncertain times. New releases are limited, and the star-studded blockbusters have mainly been postponed, so cult classics feature heavily too.  

They all quickly sell out, no matter what the ticket price, and it seems the chance to go back in time and turn on the radio, buy a bag of popcorn, and relax in your own car is as popular as it ever was – and will continue to be for a long time yet.

A number of drive-in screenings will be all horror as Halloween approaches, and naturally, Gourmet Ghosts is going to have to take you to the dark side and delve into the Los Angeles Times newspaper archives for a few examples of some REAL horror at the drive-in…

In January 1954, Clarence Ogg, a 43-year-old attorney whose had been diagnosed as a manic depressive and whose psychiatrist described as “very dangerous,” was booked on suspicion of trying to murder his three children alongside himself. He felt he had bought them “nothing but trouble,” and that them having to live with his suicide would be an “awful disgrace.”

Two of the Ogg kids with their mother after their ordeal….

Ogg took Jimmy, 12, Judy 10, and Tommy, 8, to a drive-in movie theater in Burbank (either the San-Val or the Pickwick; both now long-demolished) for a screening of British WWII movie The Cruel Sea. En route he got some sedative pills from his office, and put one each in the drinks he bought for his children during the show.

He “wanted them to go to sleep,” which they did, and then he drove them to an empty lot in Sun Valley, where he set up a contraption that ran from the exhaust into the car so it would fill it with deadly carbon monoxide. The cries of one of the woken children alerted a person living nearby, who called the police, and Ogg was arrested.

More shockingly, in May 1975 three employees at the Edgewood Drive-In Theater in Baldwin Park – the manager, Florine Anderson, and two teenagers aged 15 and 17, were shot to death, while one of the young victims’ father was shot, but survived.

It appeared that they were all victims of an attempted robbery that occurred when the armored transport truck arrived to collect the theater’s money, and police were guarding William Gaudett, who was in a critical condition, as they searched for the killers. The drive-in closed in 1985.

A few years later in December 1989, Irene Franco, 20, and her boyfriend Jesus Martinez, 26, were abducted by three armed men from the South Bay 6 Drive-In in Carson.

They drove them both to an alley in an industrial area north of the city, where Martinez was badly beaten and tied up with an electrical cord, and Franco was then driven away.

Her body was found the next day in a field in South Los Angeles; she had been raped before being shot in the head. Composite photos of the suspects were released on February 14 the next year, but by December there had been no arrests, and a $50,000 reward was offered. The drive-in, which opened in the early 1980s, closed for good in 1997.

Like many of the horror movies that we’ll watch this Halloween, this murder went unsolved, and the killers are still on the loose…